In a week that FIFA was meant to be ceremoniously convening in Zurich for its election congress, the organization that governs international soccer has been rocked to the core by the arrests of FIFA officials on corruption charges relating to the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.
At the center of the case, which was put together by the FBI and the Department of Justice, is a 70-year-old, morbidly obese American named Chuck Blazer. For decades, Blazer was the highest-ranking American in FIFA’s global operation. However, he was also up to his neck in corruption.
In a report detailed by the New York Daily News, Blazer turned FBI informant in 2011 after investigations into his own dealings indicated the former soccer dad had evaded paying taxes for over a decade on tens of millions of dollars he raked in during a 20-year tenure as a high-level FIFA executive and general secretary of CONCACAF.
While in charge of CONCACAF (the FIFA federation responsible for overseeing soccer in North America, Central America and the Caribbean), Blazer misallocated vast sums of money and other assets to support an extravagant lifestyle that saw him at one point renting two lavish Trump Tower apartments; one for him and another just for his cats. Between 1990 and 1998, a period that saw the U.S. host the 1994 World Cup as well as the historic rise of the U.S. women’s national team, Blazer allegedly received over $21.6 million in compensation, while paying no taxes whatsoever. Blazer and several other top-ranking CONCACAF officials racked up another $29 million in credit card charges over seven years before later expensing the charges to CONCACAF.
The main thrust of Blazer subsequently having to cooperate with investigators involved “wearing a wire” during the 2012 London Olympics. While not actually wired for sound himself, Blazer was given a keychain equipped with a listening device by federal agents. The FIFA insider turned informant then left the keychain sitting out on a table as he was visited in his swanky London hotel suite by various figures from the international soccer world. It’s believed that the conversations Blazer recorded with men like Alexey Sorokin, head of the Russian World Cup bid, and Anton Baranov, a secretary for the chairman of the 2018 FIFA World Cup organizing committee in Russia, served as key evidence in the case against the FIFA officials arrested this week.
Having previously inhabited a lavish world of private jets, island getaways, famous friends, offshore accounts and enough fine food and drink to satisfy his substantial appetites, Blazer had everything change one November evening in 2011. The corpulent exec was travelling down Fifth Avenue to a hip Manhattan restaurant aboard one of the many mobility scooters he maintained to transport his 450-pound girth from place to place. En route to the restaurant, a pair of federal agents intercepted Blazer. The agents – one FBI, the other IRS – explained to Blazer that he could cooperate or be handcuffed and taken in. Blazer chose the former.
Eight months later he was in London, surreptitiously recording men who regarded him as a friend and colleague. Some of those men may even be among those arrested in Wednesday’s raid in Zurich’s five-star Baur au Lac hotel. One former friend of Blazer’s who was indicted this week is disgraced former CONCACAF president Jack Warner. Indicted on corruption charges, Warner has maintained his innocence. However, it’s worth noting that many believe that it was Warner who initially turned the feds onto Blazer.
For it was Blazer who ratted out Warner, his former CONCACAF partner-in-crime, to FIFA. After Warner was implicated in 2011 for making payouts in the form of “gifts” to committee members in exchange for votes for anti-Sepp Blatter candidate Mohammed Bin Hammam, Warner went on to resign from all his soccer-related positions before being banned for life from the sport.
Because of that incident, some of Blazer’s supporters maintain that he’s not a rat but a “whistleblower." However, that’s a relatively small minority and Blazer has more enemies than friends at the moment. Although the NYC-born Blazer does perhaps deserve some credit for helping the U.S. increase its standing and relevance in the global game, most see him for what he essentially is – a corpulent, corrupt individual who gorged at the trough for decades before getting caught with his hand in the till and ratting out his former colleagues to save himself.
Whatever we may think of him, Blazer did cooperate with investigators so they could build a strong enough case to carry out this week’s arrests in Zurich.
At the moment, Blazer lies in a New York area hospital, breathing through a respirator, his body ravaged by colon cancer. But while the seriously ill Blazer would hardly seem much of a threat in his current state, one man who apparently is afraid of him, or at least of what he knows, is Sepp Blatter. The FIFA president, who has not yet been implicated in the current case, hasn’t set foot in the United States since 2011 – the same year Blazer began cooperating with the FBI.